Ron McFarland (Ph.D., University of Illinois) is Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at the University of Idaho. His work has appeared in College English and Studies in Short Fiction. His most recent collection of poetry is The Haunting Familiarity of Things (Singular Speech P, 1993). Read other work by Ron McFarland published in Weber Studies: Vol. 8.1 (fiction), Vol. 15.2 (poetry), Vol. 17.0 (essay), Vol. 17.1 (fiction), Vol. 19.3 (fiction), Vol. 22.2 (essay), Vol. 23.1 (Fiction).
The Night Owls of Elk River
Who goes to bed last
among the hundred people
living in Elk River, Idaho?
Under the few dozen galvanized
metal roofs, who stays awake
latest, as if awaiting the rise
of the town's good luck star?
Maybe the retired school teacher
firing another letter dead center
into the Marxist heart of another
Red professor who thinks Steinbeck
wrote anything more than propaganda.
Maybe the injured logger,
his back a miracle of slipped
disks, ruptured vertebrae, and
random muscle spasms held together
by his wife, who kneads him
each night as if he had some chance
of shaping up into a solid loaf.
Maybe the only sixteen year-old boy
in town, who learns in the dark
hard lessons of loneliness and dreams
girls and women no magazine
ever conceived in its hot, slick,
glossiest photographs of flesh.
Maybe the girl who lives across the street
and dreams each night of him.
Maybe the young couple with the new
satellite dish that draws irresistible
worlds into their bedroom, so
tantalizing they cannot sleep, so
beautiful they cannot bear to touch each other.
Maybe the local entrepreneur whose loans
laugh at him from the ceiling, the man
everyone knows is so rich the town spins around him like a tilted globe
whether it snows or not, and it did not
snow to speak of, he told the woman
from Boise, but it could've been worse,
and he expects a great summer.
Maybe the angry millworker who
broke his ankle last week at work
but will not take the painkillers them
collegeboy doctors gave him, which
ain't worth shit, when you can drink
away any pain worth its salt with a six-pack
of Heidelberg, and besides you can't even
pronounce the stuff, whatever it is, and
hell no she's not going to drive his pick-up
for him, not tonight, not ever.
Maybe the woman reading Byron's Corsair
on an odd whim because she heard it sold
ten thousand copies on one day in 1814,
reading alone in bed, knowing when she
finally finishes the small print, she will have
no one to talk about it with, not even the
fiery haired librarian, who goes to bed early.
Evangeline Visits the Palouse
Evangeline sidles up to the table
looking for someone, like always.
It's harvest and the snowpack was bad.
It rained at the wrong time and it
dried up just soon enough to blow away.
The farmers around here, impatient,
never heard of her lost lover-boy.
"I'm famous," she wails, "like a symbol,
faithful unto death." Old Arneson
offers one of his best blue-eyed yawns,
Scandinavian on both sides. He's wheat,
dry peas and lentils, forty acres just burnt
in a range fire that also ate up his best
combine and singed the GMC as well,
but what the hell, the brakes were shot.
Evangeline says his name is Gabriel,
a tall, good-looking guy, and French.
He could be driving truck somewhere. Just then
Arnie's boy comes in, a wide grin
wearing dirt for a face, looking for
his old man. . . "Knew if he wasn't at Fuzzy's
he had to be here." Repeats himself,
catching the new chick from the corner of his
grimy blue eyes. A town like this there's
nowhere to ask a girl out to. She can
either shoot pool or she can't, and if
she can't, you've got to think about Spokane,
and Eddie won't get paid until the last
load's weighed, about two weeks from now.
Smoothing her slim white hands along the seams
of her Levi's, "What the hell," Evangeline thinks,
"life's a bitch," and says, "I'll buy the drinks."